Exploration of old and new historical fiction defined this past year. As I participated in the online course “Plagues, Witches, and War: The World of Historical Fiction” offered by the University of Virginia and led by author/professor Bruce Holsinger.
I learned the historiography of the historical novel traces back to the genre’s prototype, Cyropaedia, written by Greek historian and philosopher Xenophon in fourth century BCE. The book was a fictionalized biography of the life of Cyrus the Great of Persia. British journalist and literary critic George Saintsbury (1845-1933) consider it to be one of the earliest examples of the genre, although Saintsbury states that it was not intentionally written as historical fiction, but as a political treaty that happened to utilize the modern conventions: a story set in the past, imagined dialogue, and based on historical written accounts.
That said, here are my favorite reads of 2013:
1. The Forsaken Inn by Anna Katharine Green. Published in 1890, Green is the inventor of the historical mystery niche. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself holding your breath as you push to find out what happens next! And what a great book cover, adore it.
2. The Love-Artist by Jane Alison. This story is told in feverish prose and much of it reads like poetry. It is the imagined missing chapter of Roman poet Ovid’s life, “the why and how” behind this word-artist’s exile from Rome. It is a driving exotic read.
3. Illuminations by Mary Sharratt. I’ ll put this simply: I loved this novel. It is a spellbinding chronicle of the life of the German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and polymath Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179). I adored the subject matter, the story line, the characterizations, the settings, the writing, the pacing, the scenes: everything.
4. Seduction by M.J. Rose This is an evocative Gothic time-slip mystery. Rose’s storytelling is in a league of its own. This book is ambiance, art, mythology, psychology, and scent. Exploring the implications of reincarnation. And delving into nineteenth century French novelist Victor Hugo’s life while on self-imposed exiled to the British Island of Jersey. Where, he led hundreds of séances at his windswept coastal home, trying to make contact with his departed daughter. While the modern day mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, becomes entwined with Hugo’s past secrets and the island’s mysterious Celtic ruins. I loved this novel.
5. The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J Rose. Welcome to another of M.J. Rose’s incredible historical time-slip novels: some authors take us by surprise, by storm, as did this novel for me. I love the things the thriller brought together: art, scent, mythology, reincarnation, spirit. I read the novel in two sittings. Loved it.
6. The Passion of Artemisia by SusanVreeland. This is an important and fascinating story about Renaissance Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. I wish for everyone to read this novel and to learn about the artist’s incredible paintings and life story.
7. The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin. While researching for a short story idea, I came across the work of Severin’s. This story is part history, part legend, part pure adventure. Severin’s is in a class of his own too. He recounts famous tales of lore and reconstructs the maritime crafts that sailed the famous protagonists through their harrowing journeys. This is the first book in a series of travel log yarns that are unforgettable and profoundly inspiring.
8. Portraits of an Artist by Mary F. Burns. In this account of the American portrait painter, John Singer Sargent, you’ll be taken into the art world of nineteenth century Paris and coastal England. It is told incredibly from fifteen first person points of view, the personages that posed for his portraits. I loved the writing and voices in this book, along with poignant and insightful reflections of what the artist thinks and cares about.
9. The Art Forger by B.A. Shaprio. Suspenseful and imaginative this story plunges into the murkiness of the infamous art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, still the largest unsolved art theft in history. It is a fascinating time-slip novel that lets you into the world of art and artists, craft, forgery, and the obsessions of the art connoisseur. What would you do for the sake of art? Recognition? To house one of the world’s greatest paintings?
1o. Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara. I really loved this story: tension on every page as you live the plight of the female painter. I could deeply relate to the protagonist, the sacrifices one makes to create, how nothing seduces the artist more than the desire to bring forth images, and the electricity between artists.
I highly recommend these novels. If you like stories of the arts, creatives, adventure, and living passionately you’ll adore every one these!
To Read List: The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose (releases April 8, 2014), Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland (releases August or September 2014), The Last Queen of India by Michelle Moran (release date not yet available),The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman: A Novel by Naslund Sena Jete, The Mask Carver’s Son by Alyson Richman, A Burnable Book: A Novel by Bruce Holsinger (releases February 18, 2014), Tierra del Fuego by Sylvia Iparraguirre
I’m really looking forward to the new year. I will begin seeking representation for my novel CUT FROM THE EARTH in 2014! Woo hoo!